wing of a jet at sunset

Enhanced Global Air Traffic Efficiency Is on the Horizon

A global initiative is underway to enhance air traffic management worldwide. At MITRE, we’re lending our aviation expertise, technical know-how, and state-of-the-art laboratory capabilities to the effort.

The world is on the cusp of implementing a globally harmonized process for planning flights and managing air traffic flows more efficiently from departure to arrival.

MITRE is one of hundreds of entities working together to make the new process a reality. Our contributions span standards development, prototype creation, and testing engagements with international partners. Dozens of MITRE staff—working both in the United States and at our Singapore site—are contributing to the effort.

The initiative—called Flight and Flow Information for a Collaborative Environment, or FF-ICE—was born through the work of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Air Traffic Management Requirements and Performance Panel.

ICAO, a global forum for aviation stakeholders, understands that efficiency relies upon collaboration and the constant exchange of information by all parties—from airlines and flight crews to air navigation service providers (ANSP), the regulatory bodies managing each nation’s airspace.

Currently, an ANSP knows about a flight through the flight plan filed at departure, which may be many hours before the aircraft enters its airspace. As an international flight operates, collaboration among ANSPs occurs primarily through radio communications and limited automated coordination when the aircraft is about to leave one nation’s airspace and enter another’s.

With FF-ICE, more advanced automated systems would enable an ANSP to receive continuous updates throughout a flight’s journey. Leveraging System-Wide Information Management—the standards and infrastructure enabling qualified aviation entities to exchange air navigation information via interoperable services—all parties can share a common view of airspace activity and the changing conditions affecting traffic flows, such as unexpected weather, airspace closures, or airport congestion.

FF-ICE can then allow an airspace user to mitigate downstream constraints in a more strategic manner, seamlessly.

FF-ICE will allow stakeholders to share critical flight information more seamlessly.

Stephane Mondoloni

That continuous exchange of information will support earlier planning and more proactive adjustments to maintain efficiency. It will also help to realize a global goal to fully manage air traffic using flights’ planned trajectories in both time and space, a concept known as Trajectory Based Operations (TBO).

“By enabling us to anticipate where aircraft will be at specific points along their route, TBO introduces new efficiencies into air traffic management,” says Steve Kamine, an expert in information exchange and smart systems who serves as the technical lead for MITRE’s work on FF-ICE.            

Imagine the Possible

Consider a flight from Los Angeles to Argentina. The jet will traverse airspace controlled by the United States as well as multiple Central and South American nations.

“With FF-ICE, stakeholders would see the same picture of the flight’s trajectory,” Kamine explains. “If the aircraft is rerouted mid-flight to avoid tropical thunderstorms, all ANSPs along the route will be aware of that change—and the delays that could back up in the system—long before the flight reaches their airspace. That gives them an opportunity to make advance adjustments.”

Airlines and ANSPs can also use FF-ICE to negotiate trajectory changes more proactively.

For example, based on weather conditions and filed flight plans, the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) may see that, in six hours, demand will exceed capacity at Narita International Airport.

“Rather than addressing the issue once flights enter its airspace, JCAB could communicate earlier with the airlines, asking them to adjust their arrival times to create a better-distributed flow into Narita,” Kamine says. “That helps maintain efficiency throughout the system, where a change in one region can impact the traffic flows in another.”

Standards and Prototypes Move the FF-ICE Vision Forward

Standardization is the backbone of the FF-ICE concept and technology.

“By standardizing the requirements for data exchange—including messaging schemas and the interoperable technology that will enable their transmission—FF-ICE will allow stakeholders to share critical flight information more seamlessly,” says MITRE’s Stephane Mondoloni, Ph.D., an expert in airspace system concepts of operation, architecture, and integration. He worked with a panel of international partners to develop both the original concept and the standards and recommended practices forming the basis for FF-ICE’s implementation across the globe.

While FF-ICE takes advantage of existing infrastructure, it will require investment from airlines and ANSPs around the world. For instance, each ANSP will need its own FF-ICE capability.

Several countries already have prototype FF-ICE capabilities, and MITRE developed two of them—for use by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), a leader in air traffic management modernization efforts in the Asia Pacific region.

In May 2022, in a demonstration involving FAA, CAAS, and the ANSPs of Canada, Japan, and Thailand, MITRE used the prototypes to demonstrate, test, and obtain feedback on the FF-ICE capabilities.

“Using the software we built, we sent flight plans and trajectory information between our lab and other ANSP participants,” says Tass Hudak, site leader for MITRE Asia Pacific Singapore (MAPS), where MITRE supported demonstrations with ANSP partners. “And we used the cockpit simulator in our Singapore laboratory to negotiate in-flight requests for trajectory changes.”

“Our team also designed a slick setup that enabled our ANSP users to respond to the airborne trajectory change requests,” Hudak adds.

“Each partner had their own objectives, so the international team developed scenarios for a variety of use cases,” Mondoloni says. “Demonstrations like this help us learn how the standards can work in different environments. And feedback from participants informs refinements to those standards.”

More testing is yet to come as ICAO strives to be ready for FF-ICE implementation by 2028.

“Hundreds of global partners are working hard to develop, test, and validate the complex systems that will manifest the FF-ICE vision, which represents the next evolution in global air traffic management,” says Kamine. “At MITRE, we’re proud to play a part in this transformational work.”

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